Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Threshold to Discipline Discourse: An English Literature First Year Limen into Advanced Literacy

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Threshold to Discipline Discourse: An English Literature First Year Limen into Advanced Literacy

Article excerpt


This article showcases the design of Mythology and Fantasy, a first year university course in English literature studies that features student reproduction of various literary forms amongst assignment requirements. The original design and its development through several iterations and reflective awareness of its potential are described within the framework of a scholarship of teaching and learning. Advanced student literacy and language skill are teaching objectives. We emphasise the pedagogy behind the course-work requirement. A small post-hoc questionnaire of how students experienced the assignments establishes that they noticed deep-level learning through the reproductive assignments, and were also prompted to think about their learning progress towards good essay writing. Such a survey was not intentional in the original design of the course, nor through its development, but was undertaken out of interest as to whether or not our pedagogy was effective. Although evidence was gathered after the course had developed, awareness that students need to be encouraged to see their own metacognitive processes for more control over their learning is not new (Biggs, 1988), and desire to give such encouragement was inherent throughout the course's maturation.

Our paper's transition gateway is accessed through medieval literature, which we show is able to give grounding in the discipline not (only) because it is foundational, but, ironically, because its unfamiliarity enables an articulation of the cultural underpinnings to academic writing. We note that increasingly diverse novice students need overt explanation of academic convention. Showing that literature is socially dynamic shows why it is interesting to study and suggests how to unpack the meaning of what it does and of its silences. As well, discussion of the specific linguistic habits of individual medieval tales can be extended to elucidation of the academic essay, which also has specific cultural conventions almost as weird and unfamiliar. The re-creative assignment work provides a further aid to transition into English scholarship: student re-creation of medieval style forces them to note the mechanics of the language that ascribes tone, as an apprenticeship in close-reading. Wisker and Robinson note that the study of literature is 'socially and critically engaged, cross-disciplinary and can involve the production of creative work' (2009, p. 317). Mythology and Fantasy exploits the threshold potential of the first year course.

Context of the course origin

The course was conceived in a New Zealand institution situated within a social background where Maori, as tangata whenua (the indigenous 'people of the land'), celebrate their taonga tuku iho (treasures such as art stories and song handed down from earlier generations). These cultural artifacts contribute to the New Zealand sense of identity, enriching non-Maori as well as Maori lives. New Zealand's post-colonial society is inherently bi-cultural, based on the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi between Maori chiefs and the British crown. The postcolonial relationship is often contested. The political relationship between Maori and pakeha (people of European descent) intensifies the fact that artifacts establish, display and endorse identity. Artifacts are politically charged. They matter. Mythology and Fantasy studies the literary artifacts handed down from many New Zealanders' (Celtic and European) heritage.

The course(s) content

The course was designed by Russell Poole at Massey University, New Zealand, in 2000 and developed there by Susan Carter, who served as a teaching assistant for him and then took over the course when Russell left in 2002. Russell structured the course on the basis of five primary texts (or groups of texts). They are legendary and mythological in character, a factor that we have found makes them popular with students. The medieval period's foundational Beowulf, Hrolfs saga kraka, the Mabinogion, and selected early Irish heroic tales were central to the course, which finished, complementarily, with Rosemary Sutcliff's modern period re-telling of the legend of Tristan and Iseult. …

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